Race Report: Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon

It’s been 11 years since I ran a marathon, so my recollections are a bit foggy for comparison, but here goes.  I will give my personal account of MY experience in this race tomorrow.

On the weekend of October 20-21 you have literally dozens of choices for marathons.  I’m not even going to try to list them all, but I will tell you about the best one.  The Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon.

The race, by most standards for marathons, is small.  The final count was 6,200 participants for the full marathon, half and 5K combined, with the majority running the half (I think I heard about 1200 for the marathon).  The men’s winner was a FIRST TIME MARATHONER!!!  He finished with a time around 2:30:00.  The women’s winner was a local high school vice principal who finished with a time of about 3:00:00.  While neither was a world class time, I think it really adds to the charm and interest of this race.  It is definitely a bigger race that anyone can win.  I think it makes it even more fun.

This course is obviously designed to showcase some of the best sights in Kansas City.  I’m not going to go turn by turn, but just give what I felt were the highlights.  This is a BEAUTIFUL course that covers everything from the concrete jungles of downtown Kansas City to the spectacular mansions around mission hills.  It is obvious that the designers purposefully planned the course to go by every major fountain in the city, and it was a great show.

We started off facing downtown from just outside the Crown Center (think Hallmark Cards, big mall, ice skating and historic train depots), taking the gun just as the sun began to rise.  After a brief choke point through the start/finish gate (the organizers didn’t expect as many runners as they got.  Here’s a hint guys… Make the start finish go ALL THE WAY across the street next year…!) which was still very brief, we were off and running on the nice wide city streets within 100 yards of the start.  The first two miles of the course take you right at downtown and then turn to go through one of the many history rich sections of Kansas City called the Freighthouse District.  You skim it the first time (but eventually finish here) and then reverse course and head back within a block of the finish line (great for spectators!!) before turning past Union Station and then heading up the first big hill.  I, personally thought this was the toughest one because, although short, it was a bit steeper.  But your reward at the top is a loop through a beautiful World War I Memorial with the skyline in the background.  A jazzy, bluesy band greeted us at the apex of our loop.  Then it was on past the first water stop (about every 2 miles) and up a little hill and then down the backside into a fun rolling section leading you into Westport.  Shops, bars, a couple of more good (albeit blurry eyed to be playing at that time of the morning) bands and lots more fountains and architecture to look at as you cruise through this section and find your rhythm.

You head out of Westport and into another landmark, the Plaza.  High end shops, lots more fountains, a few more bands and flat to rolling roads mark this section.  One of Kansas City’s biggest runs, the Trolley Run (about 10,000 runners) happens on this section of the course.  Other sights include great old houses, parks and creeks (did I mention the fountains?).  Make sure to cruise through here and not push it too hard because the next section is the longest hill on the course.

As you come down Ward Parkway out of the Plaza, you make a right on Sunset Drive.  The houses here are huge.  Climb through these mansions, under enormous oak and maple trees as you climb for about 1 mile.  The homeowners, much like the bands, greet you with bleary eyed smiles and words of encouragement as you pass.  No bands here though… heh!  Once you get to the top, you are greeted by Loose Park.  Just know that when you see it, you are done with hills!!  In fact, the next 7 miles (miles 13.1 to 20) are mostly flat to downhill.  A great time to recover and soak in the views.  Beautiful neighborhoods, parks, creeks, fountains and a few more bands really help get you through that mile 15-20 stretch that can be so hard.  This section finishes with an out and back 4 mile section that takes you to, you guessed it, another fountain.  Another unusual thing that I liked about this course was the number of times you were close enough to see the other runners.  In several places you ran out and back or very close loops and it just felt like there were runners everywhere.  Since I did most of my training alone, seeing so many runners was comforting (especially around mile 20… it was nice to see that everyone was struggling a bit…!).

At about mile 21 you start to climb a bit but it is very gradual.  Up past Hyde Park you get your first view of the downtown area again, which will give you a big surge of energy since that is where you finish!  The road flattens out as you make a quick loop through 18th and Vine District.  Lots of jazz and blues history here (and two REALLY good bands!!!) and then flat to downhill to the final turn onto Baltimore and a nice downhill finish into the Freighthouse district!

The finish line festival was well stocked with food and another Kansas City favorite, Boulevard Brewing Company (I recommend the Wheat!), had another good band and lots of aid for weary runners.  I hung around for as long as my legs would let me and then walked the two blocks back to my hotel and collapsed, having just successfully bagged my first marathon since my “re-birth” as a runner.

Pros and cons:

Pros:

  1. The course!  Gorgeous and just challenging enough to let you know who’s boss.
  2. The volunteers.  Not thousands, but well stocked enough to make for a good, safe race.  They were very supportive and always smiling.
  3. The organization.  Packet pickup was easy and everybody knew the system.
  4. Race direction.  Why?  Start time was within a minute of schedule.  Ya gotta love that.
  5. Pacers.  They were good, positive and helpful throughout the race… although no one should be laughing and chatting ALL THE WAY through the race…  They made it look too easy…

Cons

  1. The expo.  It was dead.  And the vendors (with a few notable exceptions) were too.  They just seemed like they either didn’t want to be there or didn’t know what to do.  We went in again an hour before the expo was “supposed” to close and just about everyone was already gone or already packing.
  2. Sound system.  I think the race people may need to upgrade their sound system to something that can cover a wider area.  We couldn’t here much until we were called to the line because the porta potties were a bit too far from the starting line and the P.A. system was too weak to get noise out that far.
  3. Volunteers.  Don’t get me wrong.  The volunteers they had were awesome.  All of the water stations were well stocked with stuff and people.  But there were some spots on the course where they were uncomfortably thin.  One elderly woman with an orange vest and a stop sign is not enough to keep irritated drivers from pushing through the course.  As the race grows, this is something the officials are going to have to work on.

Summary:

If you weren’t there, you missed a REALLY great run.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better.  If you weren’t there and you are a fast runner, you missed your chance at an easy $1000.  So when next marathon season comes around and you are looking for a good one, keep this one in mind.  Great scenery, great food, a challenging course, fun volunteers and a city that WANTS you to be there.  Did I mention they have fountains?

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